I saw the building, drove into the sprawling parking lot, got out of my car and walked to the entrance. I knew these halls I walked, and memories of what once was bubbled up in my head. Even the air I breathed surfaced familiar recollection. I was coming back to my innocence, the school I attended, and the place where I taught for a number of years. It was Bismarck High School in Bismarck North Dakota.
“B-i-s-m–a-r-c-k, Bismarck, Bismarck High
We’re with you for you shouting away
Bismarck the warriors cry
Rah Rah Rah…..”
That was the beginning of our school song sung so many times in the old gymnasium I was now entering for the first time in years. I was overpowered by the spirit of former students, faculty and administration. I remembered the sounds of them singing, cheering and laughing while the pep band swung their instruments back and forth as they played. There was an underlying percussive continuum of chatter as they waited for the assembly to begin. The cheerleaders waved their arms like a magic wand in a choreographed beauty as they led the minions in the rallying cries of the Bismarck High School Demons. The microphone the principal used worked most of the time, but it really didn’t matter much. He had a captive crowd that swooned in the sway of school loyalty. This was Mecca for many of us, and these events were what bonded the student body together. They were preparing themselves for another game facing our rivals on cold Fall football nights at Hughes Field or wintering for basketball games at the Memorial Building downtown and the aromatic confluence of hot popcorn and sweat laden warriors.
I was coming back to a reunion of former music students in band, orchestra and choir. We rehearsed for two hours together and the little concert was the following morning. It would be held in the gymnasium that was dedicated and named for our legendary band director Gordon Knaak. A man who made it clear to me that I mattered to him. They came together through the vision of Jeanne Unkenholz and the hard work of Mary Mick, Tim Holtan, Leslee Smith and Mary Kay Pearson. I know these names are unfamiliar to my friends who are not from North Dakota, but their loving hearts made it work. I know others helped as well and forgive any omission (I’ll chalk it up to old age). I was helped in every way possible. My eyes are failing quickly and the music was blown up so I could see it better. The cello I used was special to me because a dear friend and former student, Vonne Tarnavsky was gracious enough to let me use her second cello. She went out of her way to assist me, even rosining the bow and putting the cello back in the case when we were through. I was so moved by this kindness and loved getting to play with her.
My buddy, Mike Rockne, former choir director at the school was there as well and the hugging began. Tim Holtan did an excellent job of preparing the band and the combined groups, even kindly indulging my obsessive compulsion to take a picture as they began to rehearse. Mary Kay Pearson and Mike rehearsed and directed the choir in their performance. It was wonderful. What a special treat for the string players to be led by Barb Sundahl, who played like an angel in a piece for piano and violin to the memory of students who were no longer with us.
Throughout the duration of our gathering, there were stories and remembrances both humorous and poignant. For me it was so little about the music and much more about rekindling the fire of relationships and our love for each other. The notion that we would be making a greatly refined presentation was a nonexistent muse. We all did our best and that would have to suffice. Every time I saw a new face, my eyes would well up as I remembered how special each of these lovely lives were to me. It was like being hit by an oncoming train of emotion, hugging the people I loved and basking in our rich history. Now days I’ve watched the parents of these students get old, more fragile and have seen many former moms and dads pass on. Our parents were part of this reminisce as well. We surmised that the in the former days we were all growing up together…we were in it …together… and we came back to remember…together.